Monday, June 28, 2010

Spirits of the St. Jean

My New Chez Moi

Well, t'is a first for me. I'm living in a camping car. I'm using a toilette sèche (and quite the rudimentary one, amazing thing saw dust...). I hose myself off to shower (excepting the hours when my renters are away, then I can use my new outdoor shower at my house...). I've but my toaster oven, my rice cooker and a small gas burner I've yet to get working for food prep. I think there'll be lots of salad and rice cakes in my future.

But actually, it's rather marvelous. I've put my own futon and bedding in the camping car -- upon which I sleep really pretty well, even if my toes do tap on the facing wall (this is not a set-up for two people! unless they be munchkins). Mosquitoes will eventually be an issue. I've one mosquito net that I've put outside above my divan/canapé. As the spot I've put it in is shaded in the afternoon, it seems the best solution to the periodic necessary afternoon nap.

I brought my new hammock over to be with me for this month (it will go back to the house when I depart for Michigan, and thus be there for the August renters). I've a couple tables, chairs, cushions, a simple dish-washing set up (two containers, a hose, a sponge).

With my neighbor we set up his fridge and my freezer in his garage (closed with a key). And there I've my bread for the summer (baked last week and frozen), wines, jams, tomato sauce, cheeses, eggs, etc.,

What more could I ask for? Till I get the burner working I'm limited as to hot water, pasta, etc., But I don't miss them too much. I'm drinking sun tea at the moment. And last night I made quite a nice little batch of raisin scones in my toaster oven. Not too shabby.

Filou has taken it upon himself to be my primary protector and intruder-alert source. Unfortunately the latter apparently includes my most direct neighbor and host (oops!).

Filou is at my side, or under the caravan/camping car at all times. Even at night he has decided that this is his space. Akin to Jack in the Little House in the Prairie. Only in the morning, about 6:30AM do I hear a gentle scratching at my door to be let in. Thus he spends perhaps two hours on his bed in the car before heading back outside to live his summer life.

Not being far from my own home, I can sit in a corner of the property and have internet access (quite useful!). And soon, that fig tree that shades my table will bear fruit (yum!) and who knows, maybe I'll make a few tarts in my toaster oven? I think I could get used to living in 1.5 meters by 2.5 meters... Certainly the clean-up time is brief!

Sunday, June 27, 2010


Where do I begin? My house is now in the possession of my renters. It is immaculate, completely organized, and mostly divested of the most personal objects (photos of kids, etc.,) though much of my art collection is still on the walls, all the books, a selection of cds, the kids' toys, etc are there to be enjoyed as they will. My kids are finished with their school year. My temporarily adopted kids have gone to their respective homes. One I shall truly miss as he shifts his life path and goes into the Compagnons (guild master training) for carpentry. The other, I am sorry to admit, I am deeply relieved to be rid of.

To give an example of the extent of his selfish and self-centered behavior. Friday after school, two nights before the renters arrive, he hasn't cleaned his part of his room. And, when his parents arrived at 10pm, neither they nor I had heard from him beyond the fact that he had a gathering at school to say good bye to his teacher. Thus, no vacuuming, no mopping, no stripped bed, no shelves dusted, etc., His parents shrug their shoulders. They're not going to do his job for him. They go off to have dinner at the local pizzeria.

I go to bed. I'm exhausted. Somewhere around midnight Leo lets them all in to clean up a bit. They leave me a brief note and the remainder (7Euros) that they owed me for the new door knob (which I finally handled, having waited 10 months for them to do so). No more. Leo then turns out the lights and locks the front door. I'm asleep through all this. But, I'm awakened around 1AM by knocking and a car honking. I go down. The child had forgotten his roller blades. And with barely a good bye, they are off.

If ever my children were to behave in such a manner I would dis-own them! Now, if only he will send me back the key to my brand new bike lock...

To put it simply I am beat. I attempted to do just a wee bit too much -- but, how could I not? That's my nature. I blended tremendous amounts of detailed cleaning and organizing with teaching moments. AKA -- Please do your room(s) yourselves, clear out your stuff, give me the clothes for Michigan (for my boys) separated from the clothes that stay here. Tell me what toys are going to Arles and get them ready, vacuum, dust the shelves, mop, strip your beds, clean out your drawers... you get the picture. I only attempted help with their own rooms. But even so it was exhausting. At one point I said to Leo, alright, if you can't do things on your own, then come with me and we'll do all the rooms together. I brought him into to mine and started ordering him about, up and down the stairs with things to be put in storage, cleaning supplies to be gotten, rugs to be moved, etc.,

Leo has a good heart, but he has bones made of lead. Sitting and contemplating getting up to help me is far preferable to leaping up and doing. Hence, I'll ask something of him, and he'll still be sitting 5 minutes later. This drives me batty, and I come and nudge, badger, push, and eventually raise my voice. So far, we manage. Eventually he gets up to help, but then -- like as not -- sits back down quickly after.

Will I ever instill in him the thought/behavior of -- I've finished this task, Ma is still clearly working away, what more can/might I do to help her? At this point, clear and firm orders is the only method of getting him moving. He's in his own head/world/space and my needs and what I find important are like little mosquitoes in his ears.

Ah well. In the end, all was accomplished, thanks to help from two lovely friends, and many long hours. G did a tour about the house with a screw driver, fixing various things. He left his portion of his room well straightened up, helped clean and put back up the material on the ceiling, helped me replant some tomatoes... the list goes on. Fifteen years old and so gracious and helpful. I will miss him! I'll have to hire him back to help replace the roof someday.

It's a general rule that doing things with a child takes at least twice as long as doing for said child. So, I heaped my plate full and dealt.

But, the house is clean, organized, and newly inhabited. The garden is straightened up, the tomatoes growing, the potatoes under the dirt delicious, my tress of garlic from my garden is long and full, the pool is perfectly clean... What more could I ask for?

And, I am in a caravan/camping car just in front of my home on the property of my neighbor. My neighbor offered this solution to me (as well as his garage for all the stuff I removed from the house) earlier this spring as I realized that I wouldn't be spending this summer at the winery. Thus I've moved into 1.5meters x 2.5meters. And most astonishingly, most of my stuff seems to fit into this space, alongside a bed space that is barely 6ft (180cm) by 130cm (4ft plus a teeny bit). I've set up my outdoor divan (an extra long shipping pallet with a fold-out cushion/bedding atop) and put mosquito netting above it. I've moved over my hammock, my flower pots, a couple of outdoor tables, and all the necessary stuff -- shampoos, linens, spices, pots and pans, a small toaster oven, a coffee maker, food, etc.,

I'm remarkably comfortable there and yesterday being the first evening I slept in such a space, I actually slept pretty well. However, I will need to go to bed early in the evening as the birds and the morning light awaken me by 6.

Tomorrow I'll take pictures and put them up. Unfortunately I didn't get shots of my house in its perfection, but my new abode is ready for some documenting. I'll get those.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Getting ready for the renters

Yes, it's that time of year. A glorious time to enjoy good weather (should and if we be blessed with it). A time to be with friends, and...

Oh yes, a time to prepare the house for renters, badger the kids to go through their stuff, clean from top to toe, behind, beneath, between and beyond. A time to go mildly insane (not helped by the fierce and chilly gusts of the unseasonal Mistral winds). A time to work till I drop, break finger nails, turn my hands into sand paper, and drop weight without noticing.

The first step is to remove things - from the bed rooms, from the walls, from the kitchen shelves, from the bathroom, from all over the house -- to render the house both more neutral, but also more open for its summer occupants.

So, out go all the winter things, into boxes all the fragile and personal objects/dishes/etc., streamline the kids' toys, re-align the books, purge the old, the used, the not necessary, sift through the sheets leaving only the presentable ones (perfectly folded). And then, when the surfaces are clear, the spaces nearly bare, begin to clean and clean and clean. Cobwebs off the ceiling, dust off the shelves, grease and baked on things in the oven, crumbs and spills from the fridge. A once a year scrubbing with bleach in the shower (with a septic tank, t'is not recommended)...

As I rent my house from the day after the end of school, it is all particularly stressful as here I am trying to put order into a space fully lived in. Never a pleasant nor easy task.

The change from last year is that rather than heading off to the winery with simply my summer clothes, necessary papers, and a couple of favorite cooking utensils in my car, I'm moving into a tiny camping car on the grounds of my nearest neighbor. Thus, I'm not moving far away (this is a bonus), allowing me to take care of my garden and pool for the renters rather than pay another person to do so. But, nor am I moving into a furnished space. I'm camping. Thus, what do I need? What will I use? Spices? Pots and pans? Linens? My rice cooker? Italian coffee maker? dishes, salad bowl(s), wine glasses... and food, olive oil, wine? What will I eat? Will I serve anyone in my more restrained circumstances?

And what about my wardrobe? I've already pared it down, but... it certainly seems to visually take up about 4 times more space than the tiny closet in the camping car. Dear dear... what's a girl to do? Five weeks of summer, future tango balls, hiking, biking, outings and more ahead of me... A girl needs her things, no?

Each day I go through more, sift out more, remove and pack up more. And, thank goodness, my neighbor has space in his garage to store all my things. But as the pile grows higher and broader, he says to me rather nervously, "you will be removing these things after the summer, right?" And I reassure him that of course I will, as promptly as I can.

Did I mention that there isn't a garage or an attic or a spare room in my house? I rent it all, and thus I do what I can to stash things under the stairwell, in handsome antique suit cases (which double as side tables), in trunks (that decorate the walls), etc., even under beds. But...

I remember that huge hanger/garage at the winery where so many things could lie forgotten from various past lives, children, etc., Here, this is not possible. We are all obliged to do a full Feng Shui (Fu Sui in Japanese) yearly. Do you no longer play with these? out they go. Do you no longer wear this? out it goes. Is it broken? damaged? out it goes. Make room, clear a space, relinquish, and banish.

Though this week is brutal, I know I'll be peaceful and content slowly and selectively moving back in at the end of August. I just need to get through this week, and then... The adventure of camping begins. This should prove to be a very interesting summer.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Images come to mind

Okay, I'm not going to obsess, but as you can imagine, seeing JP for the first time in two months set images turning in my brain. The one that seems most true, most potent to me is the following:

I see him as hard, dur, placing limits, strict demands, exigeances, sticking to what is correct, ordonné, structured, rational, definable, negotiable (on his terms), holding to the good manners of his upbringing, holding to his status in his local society.

I see myself as fluid -- where he puts up walls, and sets strict limits, I infiltrate. When he tries to box me in I overflow. Where there's warmth I expand.

But, where he tried to impose his structure on me, to rigidify me, I became brittle, fragile, breaking like ice.

Taking this image a step further, is he earth? and if so, clay? baked clay? dried clay? glazed? Does his hardness hold water? absorb water? or become soft with the addition of water? -- At the moment, I'd say the first. But who knows, someday perhaps he'll get over some of his issues and open up to a future person. I wish him well.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Being an ex-girlfriend

I say this in jest. And yet not. Wednesday this week I brought four quiches and a pan of ginger sablet cookies to the winery as my contribution to the reception of 15 Japanese guests and wine importers and general all-round wine drinkers. Long ago when this date was set we'd agreed that I'd do half the preparation and assist in receiving this particular group (after all I do speak Japanese). And so, even after the break-up, we agreed that we'd still do this hosting together.

I'm pleased -- and proud -- to say all went quite well. Dietary restrictions were accounted for (vegetarian and lactose intolerant), all were fed and watered and entertained in the manner hoped for.

It was weird and a bit tense to be there working alongside JP. And yet it was also extremely easy and fluid. In this context we work well together and always have. Whether it's setting the table, doing last minute cleaning (the windows were more than a bit dusty), dressing the salad, serving, clearing, passing, etc., we divvy up the tasks like the partners we used to be.

He wondered if his importers had noticed the difference in our behavior. And I had to break it to him that they called me 'okusama' (honorable wife) and repeatedly inquired/stated how lovely and relaxed living in such a place must be. I corrected them a couple of times, saying this was his house, that mine was in Avignon, etc., But hey, after a while, it gets a bit tedious. Let them have their dream. The photo sessions after the meal were amusing though -- obviously with the vintner, and then with me, and then between us.

We spoke a tiny bit outside of the situation, JP and I. We quickly got past the how've you been? and the family? and sales? etc., etc., He told me he's been working his way slowly through the Hendrick Harville book on couples -- but found some of the examples pretty extreme (judgement, judgement...). I encouraged him, and made a couple apropos comments as to how interesting it was for me to realize the various issues I have to work on/accept in myself, and that his presence in my life had been just the ticket to bring them to light.

He was a touch miffed that his importer hadn't been more attentive to the relationship between them -- it being now over ten years that they've worked together and seen each other in their mutual countries. They'd barely exchanged a word throughout the afternoon. I agreed with him that it is an ideal to have professional relationships also be friendships, and not always attainable. He was also distressed that the group climbed into the bus without saying proper goodbyes to him (they had to me though.. but I'd followed them out to the bus). I reminded him that he'd been aside looking at the map with the chauffeur, and that in good Japanese style, he should have been by the bus door saluting them as they departed. It was not their habit to come looking for the host to say a special goodbye. Thus a brief exchange between us on the outward appearance of good manners versus true sincerity and affection (tut tut... that could apply to another I know...)

We then got to work cleaning all and everything and putting his house back into order. I then took my cases of wine, my bottles of olive oil and some freshly washed salad (he'd purchased too much) and with a short hug (my initiative, but he responded well to it). I was on my way. No need to extend the visit beyond its purpose.

As I drove home, I mulled over our short conversations, the ease of working together, the fact that yes, the attraction is still there, but so are all the reasons we're not a couple any more. And I left him back there to his house, his family, his mother, his fragile ankle, his strict manners, and all that he has built and chosen.

Erick called me then, and I confirmed that the people arriving at his house were to pay him directly -- thus a profitable evening -- for the cooking class. And I said to myself, goodness, what a truly superb ex-wife and girlfriend I am. Not only do I not harbor bitterness nor torture them nor make them suffer, I even contribute to their bank accounts! Can I rightly be proud of this? Or is that rather perverse?

In any case, it is likely to be me cooking dinner for his wine tasting weekend in July. T'would be a job I would enjoy. Matching food to wine is always fun.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Soon the school year will be over

The school year will be over soon and my two young boarders (the girls having left end of December) will soon be off in their different directions. I will miss G very much -- he's been a huge help, a dear soul, good-humored, taking initiatives to help clean, chop wood, mow the lawn, burn the garden clippings, etc., Truly, a lovely young man. Next year he'll be entering the Compangnons -- the modern day cathedral artisans' guild to become a master carpenter.

But, for our other young man? Well, I've the feeling he's burning bridges as fast as he might. He made an effort at different times this year to get along, to be helpful, etc., but, apparently, it was always an effort. And now, that effort is finished with. We've clashed strongly twice in two weeks now. Monday evening is not a good time for us.

Last week he freaked because I'd permitted G to use his bicycle when G's was out of service. In retaliation, he let the air out of both tires and would have happily left G stranded at school in such a state. G managed to get the tires pumped up and came home on said bicycle, but I didn't see him before I saw M and gave him a serious piece of my mind. How could he be so obscenely selfish and petty? Oh I went into a litany of things, that he uses all my affairs, that we live in a community, that it had been a necessary loan, etc., He got upset, slammed his door and hid out in his room.

And tonight it was over being helpful and giving me a hand cleaning the house this weekend. He simply hadn't felt like it... (I'd left him to be with clients, but had specifically asked that he vacuum and mop the kitchen and the stairwell).

I'm afraid that if anything makes me more berzerk it's selfish and petty behavior. My kids know that it's just not permitted, it's just not acceptable, it's repulsive and to be banished, it's... well, you get the picture. To put it simply, Jonas plays with Leo's toys, and vice versa, ditto for bicycles, and most everything else in this house. And both my boys were roped in to help clean the garden, the pool, and now the whole house for the renters. This is just how life is. You help when your help is needed and requested and you put aside your petty preferences till the job is done. Life is not a 24 hour party. (or only if you make it so by loving and helping and being delightful).

So, I'm afraid, zen as I try to be, accepting and adapting as I've tried to be... I must admit that I'll say good riddance when at last this child doesn't share our home. Sometimes, it just isn't meant to be. I hope, I trust, we all learned something this year about coping and getting along when your personalities just don't fit, but... it's time for the lesson to be over. Though, before he goes, there's a little remaining task -- I insist that his room be as it was when he arrived: immaculate. Either he, or his mother, take their pick.

I'll try not to bore you - Neighbors and things

Just in case all this "being in the present" and "reveling" etc is becoming tiresome, I'm here to assure you that stress is still present, as is sheer physical exhaustion. It's fun to float on clouds on occasion, and then things like an over-full septic tank come up to tap you on the nose. But, happily (or perversely?) I've become quite a regular for the septic cleaning people here -- this being the 4th year in a row -- and so they came within an hour of being called. Is this odd or what? I'm a privileged client to Sud Vidanges... Hey, at least I can testify to their professional behavior and friendly demeanor.

No doubt next year it will be the neighbor's time to empty his, and he'll forget, and it will overflow, and my back yard will smell till I urge him to cope, and ... But that's a year away. Today, all is roses.

But speaking of neighbors... I've two out of three who are fine. Of these two one is lovely and helpful, a little brother, the other innocuous and almost never there. But the one who is a bit off? Well, I've rarely come across a more stingy and selfish character with the absurdly false self-image of being "très gentil". Ha! mesquin is the term one would use. And remarkably so. If it doesn't benefit him personally, even if it would be in the interest of good relations, even if it were la chose correcte à faire, he won't do it. He's rather the type to chop off his foot to spite his toe.

And so, as I go out onto my terrace I see half a wall poorly redone. One of his outside walls gives onto my terrace. And so, he sent a mason over to resurface it to limit water damage in the winter etc., But rather than do the whole wall and split the cost with me, he did the absolute minimum -- fast and dirty. Ahhhh I could go on and on. But I won't. He's simply like that. Nothing I can do about it. If I want a prettier wall one day, I'll just do it, if the graces permit me to have the funds to do so.

Neighbors... it is such a source of either joy or pain or amusement. I enjoyed my first soirée sur une péniche the other night. Great fun, good people, good music, entertaining conversations. Most had heard of me (the American, the one who bakes bread, the one who has all those kids...), so they had an image in their minds before I arrived. However, I was able to impress at least one with my local truffle lore and foie gras knowledge. He exclaimed that I couldn't be American! I had to have French blood in me! Another spoke at length with me about how rare it is for Americans to truly settle in France. We visit, we romanticize, we contemplate, but the American who actually stays and makes a life is rare. Far more common are German, Dutch, English and folks from the North.

I've often felt this, that people hesitate to befriend you if they think you'll leave one day. What's the point of investing in a friendship if the person isn't going to be there till death do you part? Or something like this.

We laughed over our mutual neighbor -- the farmer who's been on the island for a few generations. He considers the péniche people upstarts and intruders, and there have often been disagreements between them. Many an islander considered their property line the Rhône itself. Thus, when the boat folks hooked up to the banks, they invaded the farmer's territory. It has been a quiet war ever since. This explains the fact that this farmer shoveled out only the road that left his farm this winter after the major snow storm. The other side (that would have led to my road...) he left a meter deep. Neighborly generosity? Thinking of others? Not.

Somehow, and mostly peacefully, we all co-exist. I've a beautiful house in an amazing place. And if the nice and helpful out-number the distant and persnickety, I consider myself on the winning side.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

June 12, 2010

Though I'm physically weary from a day of wine tasting in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, I'm still in a good space.

As I dance, cope, clean, explore, work, sort out, and more I'm amazed at the calm I feel. The French would say, 'apaisée.' How strange and good to be whole, solid, present. And how surreal to think of the time I spent these past two years being anything but! How could I have gotten so far from myself? How could earning a living have been so difficult? How could the stress and tension and urgency so overwhelm me? How could another's view and opinion of me have become so important?

Now, I've my weekends back, along with my general sanity and self. After those first when I wasn't certain what to do with myself, I'm now coming to revel in the quiet, the chance to weed the garden in my pjs, the chance to sleep in, to clean, to get things in order, to check on my bank accounts, to pay bills, to see friends, to go out dancing in my neighborhood (and thus to not have more than 10 minutes in the car either way). I'm pretty much getting it all done.

Oh part of me is worrying a bit about the sheer quantity of housecleaning and putting away I've got to do before the renters arrive in two weeks (countdown is beginning!). I'd like to go through all my old files and toss most of them into the recycling. Will I? I need to do my run through the house to remove all that's personal and fragile. There's the kids' things to sort through and pack up. And of course the top to toe cleaning as is done but once a year. Banish the cob webs, scrub down the shower, empty the septic (done by an outside company, not to worry, I'm not getting my own pumps or shovels out), clean the oven and the fridge and, well all those necessary things.

All the curtains come down and get cleaned and put back up. All the bedding gets re-folded and re-organized (you can imagine the state it is in after a year of pre-teens and boys to boot rummaging through it all!).

What is different this year is that I'll put my stuff at my neighbor's in his garage rather than at JP's. And, I'm moving into a small camping car on his property, which is directly across from my own. Thus, I need to bring with me the essentials for this summer -- all the food stuffs, some pots and pans, bedding, computer, printer, personal files, clothes, etc., Not all will fit into a camping van, that is sure. So??? A problem to be solved. And no doubt some cleaning of the camping van before I move into it. Just an additional element to add to the mix.

But, for the moment I'm simply contemplating and organizing in my head, not freaking out. In any case, I've three more days of touring before I can fully concentrate on all this. The key is to work methodically, steadily, and take sufficient breaks to not be a complete exhausted mess at the end of each day. I'm still learning. Work till you drop has more often been my rhythm...

However, another difference this year is that more than one friend has offered to help out -- rubber gloves in hand!

So now, rather than be a broken record over my frustrating relationship issues, I'm going to be one over the generosity of the universe... it's like a very persistent meme. When I feel something, I state it, I shout it to the world, and well, it's there.

Rose-colored glasses

Or, des lunettes teintées en rose, as a 'connaissance de tango' said this evening. And yes, I'm reveling in the pleasures of my life, of which dancing is currently a marvelous and important one.

In general, my enthusiasm and upbeat outlook on life throws people here. I suppose that it's rather unusual that after fifteen years living in Europe I've not become a bit more reserved, cynical, distant, intellectually aloof... But that's a stereotype that maligns my friends here, perhaps more apt for Parisians.

I've found my friends here in the South, and my acquaintances, to be more open and warm than people I met in the north. However, t'is true, I'm in a class by myself.

And so, when my tango friend looks at me with amusement in her eyes, and states that I must be looking at the world through rose-colored glasses, I say yes, but that I'm simply doing my best to be where I'm at. And, at that moment I'm floating on air after dancing with nearly every cavalier in the room.

How could I not be radiant and happy?

I do tell her that I've been through a lot in my head and heart, wondering, seeking, deciding. And that having made a decision to be here, I am doing my darndest to attach my feet to this ground and grow and be. and to be grateful.

And, like a tree, I've branches reaching for the sky, leaves lightly floating in the air, catching the rays of sunlight, and roots gently growing downward into the soil. Solid, yet light.

So, Buddhist thoughts and meditations on gratefulness and being in the present aside... I'm still an odd one.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Visiting Aix

Well, I'm getting a better feel for this elegant and bourgeoise city. I do admit to not knowing it very well before being spurred to do so by clients who wanted a day's tour here.

I'd visited as a teenager with the host family I stayed with in Marseille. From that stay I had memories of gorgeous carved wooden doors... which there are to be sure, but why would that be the main memory in my head? I also was privileged to be snuck in to see an open air production of Mozart's Magic Flute from the spiral stairway up to the balcony section (a friend of the family I was staying with was interning at the Festival Lyric of opera that summer). There's something awsomely magical about watching the most lovely of operas in an ancient Roman outdoor theater setting in the warmth of a summer's night... Yes, that is a precious memory in my stash.

And since? Some brief visits with Erick and clients to see the Cézanne exhibit in 2006. A night of opera when pregnant with Jonas, a gift of seats from a friend who works for Vauzel, the president of the region PACA (Provence Alpes, Côtes d'Azur). What did we see? I'm not even sure. Perhaps Mozart again? I was rather distracted, yet quite delighted by the cultural outing.

Yes, Aix is de rigueur, a center of Provence and one example of Provençale culture. In fact, it did used to be the seat of power of the Provence royal family. And so I've been doing my research in books and on the web, and making excursions alone and with friends, absorbing what I might.

The key things to remember? Fountains and Cézanne, lovely tiny streets, great boutiques (buy a dress here for your friend's next wedding), interesting dining options, squares filled with markets, and more fountains.

If you can do so, avoid driving. Park immediately when you see a parking spot, have lots of change (it is far more expensive here than in either Avignon or Arles) and just leave your car for the day. Don't wear high heels -- the prettiest sections of the city are riddled with cobble-stone streets. Note that you can pick up some English reading material (on rue Cabbersol in the Mazarin district, down the street from the second fountain on the Cours Mirabeau).

The Cézanne sites are sweet: his last studio and home (basically a very small bachelor's pad with a large second floor room with a wall of windows), complete with over grown garden, tree-shaded spots to sit and rest -- all is just as he left it, or very nearly. He is said to have been a rather poor house-keeper, so the dust is quite normal, and with still lives being one of his favorite subjects, numerous apples in various states of decay are set up about the room; and the house of his parents to which he was much attached and in which he painted a number of walls on the theme of the Seasons. This house was sold by his sisters and himself when his mother died, the Jas de Bouffan. Neither site has easy parking, and the latter is a bit of a hike from the center of town, though doable. Basically, if you can grab it, try to park in the lots of the apartment complexes nearby. Then don't get run over as you cross the street to the entrances.

But then, get back to the little streets of the old section of town. And, here, I'll give you my new favorite address, Toute une Histoire, a vegetarian buffet style restaurant on the Place des Tanneurs. Oh but the food is good, fresh, inventive, and very reasonable. Go by early to reserve your table outdoors, and enjoy the teas, the friendly service, and the possibility of simply hanging out in the afternoon working on your computer, sipping coffee, and enjoying the relaxed and funky space.

And, do not forget the Mont Ste. Victoire. Majestic, just outside town, (direction le Tholonet) no longer as easy to spot from the top of the hill above Cézanne's studio (the trees are far higher and denser in spots now than they were 100 years ago), but a lovely 10 kilometer drive out of town, away from the crowds, away from the traffic (though on a road with occasional small and steep sections where you may run into cars and buses that share with difficulty, the narrow paved sections, lined with deep drop-offs...).

If you're feeling energetic, go for a walk/climb. There are a number of paths that go up the south face of the mountain, and the nicest ones begin before you get to the visitor's center (Maison Ste. Victoire). You could also go to the north side (the next option on the circle road around Aix that takes you east), where your hike would be shaded by the trees in the morning.

In either case, it is a steep and strenuous climb, though not too long (two hours or so). Bring water, trail mix, oranges, a sun hat... And enjoy!

The simplest of meals

Friends called. They're on their way over. Or rather, lovely people I've yet to meet but exchanged on FB with and who've apparently been reading my blog for ages... or since its inception. Cool! She's a Franco-american artist with connections to Salvador Dali (wow!), he's an American composer (of tango music no less!) who also knows a childhood friend/composer/musician of mine and they're moving to my city. People who scorn cars (oh how I would as well if only...) and who've adopted a frugal but extraordinarily rich life-style over the years. My kind of folk?

What to feed them? Coffee at 11 is easy... but when noontime comes around? What then? I've not had time to shop for days (lots of touring clients-- thank you universe), so the fridge is not what you'd call full (at least of fresh veggies and fruit which to my mind means the larder is empty!).

Hey, remember? I've a garden, and in it there's garlic waiting to be harvested - I've followed Sharyn's advice to let it grow and then begin to wilt before bringing it in. Perfect... And all those potatoes I planted, why not dig up some little new ones now? Ah, little tiny red ones and nice sized yellow mona-lisas... Next? The last of the peas would be a lovely green garnish. And I can't forget the herb garden, some lemon thyme? basil? both small and large leaf.. Then dessert, a couple strawberries ripened by the sun?

With all these in hand I put on water for the pasta to boil, and started chopping, mashing, crushing, mincing, and voila, lunch was nearly ready. A few drizzles of my last bottle of JP's olive oil (wonder if I'll get more one day??) some sea salt, fresh baked bread (the timing on that at least was perfect), a bottle of organic rosé (yup, one of my last bottles of this too... ) and a meal is on the table.

Thank you garden! Thank you house! Thank you friends! Thank you Provence!

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Sylvie's Scarves

What wonderful news! Sylvie has a wonderful range of scarves for sale. And as I've already four in my wardrobe, and though I sincerely tempted... it's likely better than I leave these for others to enjoy.

Remember her? I wrote an earlier blogpost on her: The Felting Lady. She is a gifted artist of felting and silk. I've put images here, both close-up of the details and distant to show the whole scarve/shawl. If you find any of them to your liking, she would be delighted to sell it (them) to you. They are 60E(for a small one around the neck) to 120E (large and enveloping) plus shipping (which is minimal as they are so light). Her email is Her English is superb (she lived nearly ten years in Australia), and who knows, maybe you'll enjoy exchanging with her as much as receiving a gorgeous and unique shawl?

The Rare Quiet Morning

I slept in this morning slothfully reveling in the indulgent pleasure of staying horizontal, abed, as the birds sang their chorus and quietened, as the chill of the morning air through the delicate light evolved into warmth and strong rays of the Eastern sun. The only glitch: a dog in need of his morning outing. But, happily, I can descend three stairwells, open a door and climb back up and still find a way to return to slumber. After the second descent (in response to sharp and insistent barks at three minute intervals) I acknowledged a need for verticality, or at the very least, a gentle move towards awakening.

A call from Erick confirmed this. Clients lost on the Place Voltaire, and a morning's class to add my two bits to.

But here I am, an hour and a half later, quietly soaking in the light, the tweets and twirts of a family of swallows over my head, nesting beneath the roof tiles, the hum of the swimming pool motor, a dog, now quiet, resting at my feet. My cup of tea has been drunk, my cup of mocha -- a treat for this Saturday morn -- but a third gone.

I couldn't resist going to my strawberry patch -- unbelievably generous this year! and Jonas's favorite task of the day -- to pick this morning's bounty (the kids being with Erick). I weeded as I plucked the strawberries, admiring the abundance and somewhat chaotic state of my little garden. It's time to pluck out some of that garlic, I wonder if the potatoes are ready? Or should I wait? The peas are few, but giving as they might. The mint is yearning to take over (as are the strawberries). The squash and melon plants are multiplying and growing. The tomato plants are doing their thing.

Hands covered in dirt, (no time to put on gloves) slippers a bit damp, I rinsed off the berries and added them to my morning's repast.

New rhythms are coming into my life, over and beyond a quiet Saturday morning in my home in Provence. Lovely O came for the fourth Friday in a row to share our afternoon exchange of English conversation for practicing her newly acquired skills of Thai massage. Her new friendship is one of the gifts I am cherishing in this period of my life. She is living a new couple, and pondering its impact upon herself and her son, whether they should move in, what attracts her to him, frustrates her about him, etc., They've been together exactly a year, and yet... it is not yet clear. Is it ever?

She is my opposite, and yet very much like me. We are both highly sensitive, porous, quick to be hurt by criticism (not the fighting types), artistic, deeply connected to our bodies (she is a dancer by training), attentive if relaxed parents. And we're both on the path of moving through this life either accompanied or not, but certainly not from an early age the wife of one man.

She is very beautiful. My age, fluid, radiant, very much the wanderer and the dancer. She is the free spirit, frightened of restraints, of caging, of being held back, very much in need of space, time, trust. Her man is what is described here as "fusionel". He believes when in love, you do everything together, and when she emits a desire for a day at the beach, accompanied only by her small son and no one else, or the need to sleep alone at her home to gather her wits/ se resourcer, he is hurt, offended, and at times, suspicious, méfiant.

What a way to put things in perspective for me, and to reflect upon what I've learned these past few months. I offer her the guidance I might. That being opposites, perhaps they can each help the other find a middle ground, make tentative steps in the other's direction, be kind, offer understanding, gently work through their respective histories and issues. And yet I hear her and I see that though he is good, generous, kind, interesting, tender... she is frustrated by what we'd say in English, his clinging, and what I find even more powerful, his lack of trust in her.

In my past relationship I wanted more, and he wanted less. Though I was far more tolerant of space needs, silence, separate outings, separate lives than this man. I had wanted a partner to grow with, to create with, to share my life and his. O is ready for this, and eager to participate in his business, to help him with her skills and person. She is also ready for the stability he represents. But they quite clearly have their hurdles to leap.

We'll see where they end up. As she speaks of his reactions, I remember my readings and suggest that rather than close up, be frustrated, etc., when he reacts strongly to her desire to have time alone, quietly suggest to him that he look again at himself and why this button is so tender, why he bursts into distrust and fear when she expresses a very banal and simple need to have time in her own head, by herself. Gently, with understanding, will he hear her? Or will the personal filtering mechanism impede any absorption of her reason?

We are all at such different stages of personal development. Our issues and fears are powerful and hold dearly to their existence. The ego is firmly in place and though glimmers of light and hope are there, freeing the soul, regaining clarity, openness, trust, strength... it is all so tricky. Sometimes we take baby steps, sometimes we fall back into the trenches, sometimes we leap forward, sometimes we shore up the cracks in our walls, no matter the potential light they offer.

And yet I do appreciate the idea that we are attracted to precisely the person that can help us see and work through these fears and extremes. However, only if we are willing to see the conflicts they bring to our lives as means of learning and evolving, rather than annoyances and reasons for departing.

This week also brought me the joy of more friends, and more confirmations of finally being on a sane and healthy path for me. The question has come up, for myself and for other women friends in similar points in their lives. What is my personal path? When do you cease to live for yourself, putting your husband/man and children ahead of you, and when can you, must you, will you, regain your footing and find the sense and justice of your own presence on this earth?

Up to this point, I've easily adopted a place beside others, adapting my pace to the ambition of another, be it Erick or JP. With Erick, it made sense, and we built, evolved and created. But with JP it was a dead end. Oh, I came away from this coupledom with far increased knowledge of the wine world, with tango steps in my feet, with experiences exploring the Gard and the Cévennes, not to mention Venice. But, sharing a life truly with him was not my path. And little by little, it became drastically clear that being with him impeded me from finding my own path.

And so, what is it? What is my very own path? That is the question.

I have lived forty four years as a woman without an absolute notion or ambition for a precise field of study or course; i.e. I never dreamed of being a veterinarian, or of having a family of 5 kids and living in the suburbs, or of exploring the Amazon.

When you are open to many possibilities, and take pleasure in equal numbers, when you enjoy people, but also revel in time on your own, when you find basic jobs in offices not to your liking, and thankfully have the skills and education to scrounge about pretty well, when you want to raise your kids well but not fall into dire poverty... when you've chosen to live abroad and are surrounded by amazing friends, when you've a house you love and whose tending enriches your soul... what is the path to take? Am I carving one? clearing away the brush? or following bunny trails that lead to dead ends?

I'm meditating on this, and receiving -- ever so gently -- nudges from the universe, nuggets of ideas coming together, a rightness for a future direction.

Monica came this week and read my cards. As always, she gave me strength and joy simply by being here. Her powers as a medium/seer are potent. I hear what she communicates, wondering which portions will play out (in every instance, there have been true sightings that were proved in the months that followed, but just as much, sightings of possible paths that I didn't end up following). But just as marvelous is the energy she transfers to me when I am in her presence. She has seen me through my divorce, through the purchase of the house, through my anxiety for the boys, through the turmoil of my times with JP. She saw the complete and total confusion of last summer when truly I had no idea where I would end up, still attached emotionally to JP but knowing it wasn't right, looking to find someone in the part of the US I love most, Northern Michigan.

This time, the cards were particularly wonderful, except where JP was concerned. She said you're done with him, he limited you, his life is not yours. It was good luck that brought him into your life at a time you needed urging and momentum to divorce, and now it is good luck that is removing him from your life. Let go, and find yourself. You are the butterfly emerging from your chrysalis. You have projects ahead of you. You are surrounded by supportive and wonderful women friends, and present and attentive sons. Pursue your project(s), they can work, find the accountant/legal adviser to help you put it together. The B&B should sell this summer, and thus you'll have the necessary funds to advance. Enjoy being where you are, there are men in your future, perhaps even a choice of two. Not to worry, you attract them easily enough. Beware of anyone who is radin (stingy), or too old. What you seek is what you deserve: true sharing, support, encouragement, being more as a couple then you are alone, someone who can accept all that you are and not simply permit but enrich the full expression of your essence.

The part of the deck came up again and again in the most positive way: the two most beautiful cards. I'll put it here. Champagne flutes of celebration, and the spider who reaches to the energy of the sun, brings it down through her spun threads and enriches life here on Earth.

So now, it's up to me to realize this potential, n'est-ce pas?

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Images from the Lubéron

The Lubéron is a valley to the east of Avignon lined with two ranges of hills atop which there are a number of some of the most lovely perched villages, villages perchés, one can hope to find.

Understandably, this is a popular day tour for me and my clients. Each time I go there, the visit varies depending on the weather, energy of the visitors, preference for walking and/or shopping, interest in monuments, or just reveling in the time-old act of sitting in a cafe people watching, a glass of rosé or orangina in hand.

With one group we might be buffeted by the powerful Mistral winds as we walk up the troglodyte home lined tiny streets of the now abandoned town of Oppède le Vieux, and with another a shared moment of laughter at a fellow visitor's bull dog as he rolls in the deeply staining orange ochre slopes of Roussillon.

We admire the blended earth pottery (called terres melées, quite a stunning achievement of swirled colored clays made into delicate pieces, and clear glazed). We take in the vast views in all directions, and we explore little nooks and crannies of these quaint places. And, de rigueur, we enjoy some scrumptious ice cream before heading back to the hotel.